The Malta Independent 25 May 2020, Monday

Blurring the lines between science fiction and reality

Kevin Schembri Orland Saturday, 15 November 2014, 10:00 Last update: about 7 years ago

A new project, codename VALCRI, will see elements thought only to exist in the sci-fi genre introduced into the day to day running of law enforcement agencies.

VALCRI (Visual Analytics for sense-making in Criminal Intelligence) will act as a go between for all police databases automatically making links in order to help analysts gather data. This will be done through the help of an advanced AI, capable of determining links between a crime committed and those similar to help minimise time and even draw lines between similarities in other crimes which could then lead to an arrest.

The idea behind the project is to assemble this information all the while having this evidence hold up in a court of law. The programme, or rather the Artificial Intelligence in this case, will have the ability to pull the relevant information from the aforementioned databases creating visual interpretations.

One of the Project Coordinators is Middlesex University's own Professor William Wong. "Say if there is a burglary, this programme will pull information from similar cases where links are made from various databases. This will help create a pattern and identify any crimes the same culprit could have committed. In addition, take a thief who is selling items over e-bay for example. This programme will also be able to track where the money is going, thus revealing more people within the crime ring and making it easier for analysts to read the relevant information".

The software will not only track the volume of crimes, but also their location, and will then proceed to sort the significant from the insignificant connecting the dots, he explained. A number of police organisations have already come on board, including the West Midlands Police Department and the Antwerp Local Police. Professor Wong also plans on creating a forum to help showcase their software to other police agencies that have shown interest in the project.

The project, involves 19 different partners, with 78 researchers including staff from Middlesex University. Middlesex University’s School of Science and Technology brought the project’s latest meeting to Malta, hosting the partners at Middlesex’s Malta campus in Pembroke. This is the largest EU-funded project the University has worked on. 

"This programme can work with both local as well as international police databases. Sometimes crimes might not be easy to solve and very few details would be present, in these scenarios the programme can help police find similar cases which could lead to the identification of the criminal," Professor Wong explained.

The project began last May and will take around 44 months to complete. "We plan to havedemonstration software to show enforcement agencies in 2017. This will be a next generation highly interactive system. We have no intention of removing the human element. In fact the idea is to make the lives of officers easier".

Asked about the possibility of business implications, he said that they do not have the funds to undertake such research, howeverwith patterns, then this could be detected. If there is substantial factual evidence that compiles to a pattern, the system can detect that pattern and if there is a suspect linked with this situation then he would be revealed".

As described on the website, rather than focusing on transactions such as searching and retrieving, VALCRI aims to prioritise its design to support the thinking and reasoning processes, i.e. how information can be rapidly accessed and brought together to help the analyst structure and explain the unknown - regardless of whether the purpose is for intelligence or for investigative analysis".

The website describes intelligence and investigation analysis as "a process that can be viewed as a continuum where the purpose of the process changes from the support for thinking and reasoning about anticipating and pre-empting crime, to support for thinking and reasoning about specific investigations.An analyst may carry out crime intelligence to identify crime patterns from behaviours of offenders in order to determine policing priorities in a city or neighbourhood. The same analyst may be asked to provide analysis and intelligence support for a specific on-going investigation. In time, the analyst may be asked to gather evidence to support a criminal prosecution. This becomes criminal intelligence analysis".

"VALCRI will incorporate designs that protect against the weaknesses of human cognitive biases and abuses that may arise from accidental (human error) or deliberate violations of ethical, legal and privacy principles," the website read.

The project costs€13 million and is financed by the European Commission.




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